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Compare & Solitaire: What’s the Match?

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“Beauty begins the moment you decide to be yourself.”

-Coco Chanel

If we’re up for playing big games in life — career, impact, purpose — we’re going to be pressing our envelope all the time, becoming bigger than we knew ourselves to be.

A natural tendency is to compare: to others going our ways, and to our own ideals and standards of how we’d like to be playing.

As I grow to bring out a message of hope and inspiration – something that arose within me only in my second half of life – I observe myself comparing my delivery and message exposure to others, who may have been singing their song for longer or lesser than mine.

As I watch my tendency to juxtapose my progress to what I perceive to be the progress of others, I see the pull toward judgment: evaluating my status in relation to theirs, or even to my own ideals of where I’d like to be.

The old adage claims “compare and despair” perhaps only because that’s the direction most people go with it.

When we see someone playing better at a game we’ve chosen, we COULD choose to be inspired to know it’s possible for us to play better too…and learn from them.

When we see ourselves playing beneath our own perceived abilities, we COULD feel blessed to know we have more within us to tap.

These are the directions I’m playing with to address the natural comparison instinct, to empower myself to grow vs. become resigned…which can happen if we think we’re so far behind.

The main issue is how we’re going to relate to that Self we were handed, the particular Monopoly piece we were issued…and whether we realize that it’s always an inside job.

Maybe a new adage is called for: compare and solitaire.

Using any comparisons that naturally occur as insight to play my own game better, with the objective to use up the whole deck life has given me, keeps me focused on my own game and my own cards.

You only have your deck to play with…and only your own hand to play.

By the way, did you know that another name for solitaire is “patience”?  What might that insight alone afford you?

Remember: Your Game, Your Deck, and Patience.

“The only person you should try to be better than is the Who You Were yesterday.”

-Unknown

The Bar, the Mindset, and the Law of Attraction

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As we were settling in into our new condo, Darrell and I decided to buy a little corner bar.  One of those cool pieces that look built in, only they’re not.

Purchasing most of the other furniture came easy: we researched, found what we wanted, and bought it.

Not so easy for the bar.

After two months of relentless searching for the right one, it was nowhere to be found.  We spent hours searching online.  We looked at several dozen different models.  We went to stores and talked to salespeople.  Nothing worked.  Nothing came close to what we thought would be perfect.

I was resigned that we wouldn’t find the perfect piece.  Darrell was frustrated that nothing we saw was good enough.  Actually, truth be told, Darrell is a bit less particular than me, and could have been satisfied with a lot of these earlier options.  I’m more of a stickler for the exact fit.

Last week while taking an evening walk, we talked about our seeming inability to find just the right bar.

I said, with an intention to make us feel better, “It’s ok.  I always thought that the bar would be hard to find, and that it could take a lot of time and be pretty expensive.”  That was true – deep in my mind I was always convinced that finding the perfect bar would be a difficult and time-consuming project.

Darrell paused…and said, “Do you know, with that belief, it is no wonder we can’t find anything that will work for you…”

In that moment, I got it.  He was right.  In my mind, I created an idea that the perfect bar would be hard to find and expensive.  Therefore, the Universe was proving me right: it was.  With that mindset, no wonder we couldn’t find what we wanted.

“Would you be willing to give up the idea that it will be hard to find?”, Darrell continued.  Convinced as I was in the rarity of the item in question, I was willing.   I do enjoy a good game of mind control and miraculous manifestation.

Fast forward… to that VERY EVENING!

That night, after his regular few minutes per day of searching for a perfect bar, Darrell showed me a picture of something that looked ideal – a perfect fit, and at a fraction of the price I had expected to pay.  Although it was about an hour drive from our home, we decided to call them up and discuss it.

With what sounded like a description matching the picture of perfect fit, we gambled with renting a truck and drove up the next day.

It turned out to be true: the only bar in two months that came even close to what we wanted.

At the end of that eventful day, we had the most perfect bar – in color, shape, size, and design – sitting right in the corner of our condo.

Coincidence?  Fluke?  Nah!  I’m big girl enough to call one on myself.

As soon as I gave up my (very unhelpful) mental idea, we found a perfect piece…easily and somewhat effortlessly.

This gave me another perfect opportunity: to look where else is my mindset in the way of my getting what I want in my Back Forty, my second half/best half of life.

How about you?  What mindset, idea, or way of thinking could you give up to create room for something new, playful, or radical?  What miraculous manifestations do you have in mind?

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You Need to See How Inspiring this 98-Year-Old Woman Is!

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Do you ever have one of those days where you just feel old? You wake up and your back is aching, or your leg, or a random arm. And then you try to get out of bed and your joints are popping and you’re groaning and you’re tired. It’s days like these where I get up and say to myself,

“You are so old!”

Now don’t get me wrong, some days I feel young and full of energy, but other days…not so much. Other days I feel old and it causes me to make excuses. I can’t go to the gym because I hurt too much. I’m just too tired to go out tonight. The excuses go on and on.

Well, the other night I found a video posted on Facebook by NowThis and was inspired by it (and a bit ashamed of myself). I searched the internet for more information on this topic and I found the original video that NowThis had cut up for their 30-second news clip. If you are ready to realize just how young we all are and how our excuses should never get in the way of achieving greatness, watch this video created by Athleta below:

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CBfslZKi99c]This is Tao Porchon-Lynch and she is the world’s oldest yoga teacher at the age of 98!

Tao is absolutely inspiring. At the beginning of this video she says,

“When you wake up every morning say, ‘This is going to be the best day of my life,’ and it will be.”

– Tao Porchon-Lynch

Meanwhile, I was here feeling old.

So, I challenge you (and myself) to be as strong and dedicated as Tao is.

Are you interested in learning a little more about Tao? Well, get ready to be inspired even more!

  • She has been a yoga instructor for over 75 years and still teaches 4 days a week!
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    Source: The Times
  • She was a model during WWII  and even had the title “Best Legs in Europe”.
  • When she moved to America after the war, she worked as an actress for MGM and even co-starred with Elizabeth Taylor in “The Last Time I Saw Paris”.
  • She has a passion for ballroom tango and has won several hundred first-place competitive dance titles.
  • She is the co-founder of the American Wine Society (as if I didn’t like her already)!
  • She’s written two books (one about yoga and one about dance).

All in all, she is an amazing woman that we should all aspire to be more like!

So I’ll leave you in awe of Tao with this last quote:

“Don’t let age dictate to you what you can and cannot do.”

– Tao Porchon-Lynch

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Sources: NowThis, Athleta, Wikipedia

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Going Gray? Here’s How To Do It With Style!

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“Going Gray” has been associated with getting old for what seems like forever. It’s a part of the aging process that people try to hide from the rest of the world. At first, people pluck those first few gray hairs that dare to arrive and then they start to dye their hair so no one will find out that they are officially old.

Now, if you actually take a moment to think that scenario through, it’s completely ridiculous. There are so many factors that effect when you “go gray”. Some people are completely gray by the age of 30, others don’t get gray hair until their 50s. Does that mean the people who have naturally gray hair at the age of 32 are old? I don’t think so. Honestly, I wouldn’t consider the people going gray at 52 to be “old” either. I would argue that gray hair has nothing to do with being old and, because of this, I want to share with you the top 5 ways to have gorgeous gray hair.

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1. Use the Right Shampoo(s)

Gray hair brings brand new concerns to the forefront when it comes to choosing the right shampoo.  White strands of hair are far more susceptible to the colors of the products you use. Because of this, you should avoid using blue shampoo too regularly. Using blue-hued shampoos regularly can cause your hair to pick up a bluish tint. Why use blue (or violet) shampoo at all? Gray hair can pick up a yellow hue just from exposure to the elements. To counteract this, you can use a shampoo with a blue/violet tone (which counteracts the yellow) a few times a month.

All of this being said, you have to experiment and find the best shampoo for you. Some people just need one shampoo while others need to use two or three different shampoos throughout each month. Don’t worry though, below are a few of the best shampoos for gray hair to get you on the right track!

2. Condition, Condition, Condition!

This is where my above point about gray hair looking dull with exposure to the outside world really comes into play. How do you prevent your hair from looking dull – you get a great conditioner! Look below to see some of my top picks:

3. Pick the Best Cut

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Which haircut would you consider “old”?

Do you have a go-to hair stylist? If not, it’s time to find one. Choosing the right haircut makes all the difference. After all, just look at these two women on the right. There is one who clearly looks older than the other, right? When it comes to picking the right hairstyle, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Consult your stylist to decide which haircut best flatters your face.
  • Pick a modern cut with clean edges.
  • Don’t let your stylist use a razor on the ends because it can cause your ends to fray and look a bit ragged.
  • Schedule a trim every 6 to 8 weeks to keep your hair looking clean and fresh.

4. Protect Your Hair

Like I’ve mentioned before, the biggest threat to your hair is the elements. The simplest option is to try to wear hats when you are out in the sun for a long time. However, there are other options as well. Using platinum or silver color defense shampoo and conditioner with antioxidants can help protect your hair from the elements. There are even sunscreens specially made for your hair! Check out the top hair sunscreen options below:

5. Update Your Wardrobe (& Makeup)

Your entire life you have worn certain “flattering” colors, but now that your hair is a different color, the colors that compliment you best have also changed. Follow these tips for picking the most flattering outfits and makeup:

  • Try wearing more clothes that are gray and blue, they often compliment your hair well and cause a striking beauty effect (although your eye color might cause these colors to be more or less flattering).
  • Take the chance to be bold in your style. High fashion looks wonderful on people with gray hair.
  • Brighten up your wardrobe. Think of your new hair as a blank canvas no more do you have to worry, “will that look good with my hair?”
  • Deep colors often make you look refined and regal. Try deep reds, blues, purples, and grays.
  • On the other hand, earth tones often make you look washed out.
  • With your hair taking on a cooler tone, it is time to warm up your makeup.
  • Try a peach blush to warm up your face in a few seconds.
  • If your eyebrows seem to be disappearing, define your arches with a taupe pencil to make them stand out a bit more.
  • Don’t forget to groom your eyebrows as well, trim hairs that are getting out of hand.

Need some more makeup tips? Check out this video from Sixty and Me:
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Regardless of which of these suggestions you find work best for you, embrace your new look and I promise, you will look phenomenal!

Sources: Prevention.com, VibrantNation.com, TheGuardian.com, LoveTheGray.com, AHairGuide.com, SixtyAndMe.com, StyleCaster.com

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Four Lessons Learned From Our Thanksgiving Paint-cation

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Shortly after moving into our off-white-walled condo, Darrell and I decided to have a Paint-cation.  We wanted fun colors and faux finish on our walls without spending tons of money on hiring someone to do it.

As soon as we moved in, I kept talking about how we could – with no problem because I did it 15 years ago – paint and faux finish our small condo ourselves…so we decided to take the Thanksgiving holiday to do it!  (Luckily for us, my amazing mom hosted Thanksgiving dinner, so all we needed to do was to show up for a few hours).

Darrell and I spent four 16-hour days prepping and painting.  Here’s what I learned from our Thanksgiving Paint-cation.

Throwing my “hat over the wall” first…and THEN figuring out how to go get it actually does work!

John F. Kennedy made famous a story told by Irish writer Frank O’Connor, where he and his friends “would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they would take off their hats and toss them over the wall – and then they had no choice but to follow them.”img_5511

We got our supplies, painted color samples on the wall, and picked our colors. 

Then I tested my faux finish technique… and it sucked!!!  Doubt crept in… should I have kept my mouth shut?  Should we have hired professionals?  Did I get us in over our heads?  Were we now papered and taped and all dressed up with no place to faux? 

Doubt is a familiar guest in my mental household, and by now it was having a party with friends.

So, fueled by the amount of time and money we already spent on this project – as well being committed to vibrant color on our walls – I gave IMG955589.jpgmyself a pep talk and set out to watch every Faux-Finish How To Video I could find!  I then practiced diligently on large planks of cardboard harvested from a big screen TV box in the dumpster.

After multiple attempts and lots of forgiveness, I mastered a technique that ended up turning our bedroom alive!  Purple is my favorite color, and ragging purple glaze over deeper purple base on the bedroom walls was probably the most fun I ever had painting anything!

I committed blindly and without knowing all the particulars…and found a way to get to the result.

When I “play first” and take risks, I make mistakes and doubt shows up.  It’s par for the course.  The faster I forgive myself (and thank the doubts for sharing), the more fun I have. 

Taping is the most boring part of any painting project.  I thought it would take me half a day to tape out our place before starting to paint.

On the contrary, it took three times that amount…hours and hours of tedious, never-ending, detailed, and annoying work.  It delayed the start of our actual PAINT-cation by 2 days! IMG955581.jpg

The ever-present self-critic reared its ugly head again in this case as well. It said “You should have known better.  You messed up the schedule.  How in the world will we get it done on time now?”

I’ve learned to unlearn all that built this inner critic: the childhood pressures to be good, look good, be nice, do things right.  So, I set out to forgive, forgive, forgive…and kept my fingers working.

In The Back Forty we “play first”: GO FOR IT without having everything worked out or having all the answers ahead of time.  Figure it out as we go.  So that’s what I did.  And, though it didn’t fit my preconceived pictures or timeline, it all DID get done anyway!

Get out of my head and go play!

Sunday afternoon, I found myself standing in the middle of the living room, with glaze in one hand and a sea sponge in the other, about to start another faux experiment that would shape the whole experience for people walking into our home…when once again I was paralyzed by my frequent visitor – doubt!

“What if I mess it up? I did the bedroom ok, but everyone sees the living room. Should I use the rag here too since I know how to use it better, even though we wanted to sponge for a different effect? Oh my god, what did I get myself into!!!” 

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Then, just when I could use some outside-voice interruption, Darrell said: “Don’t worry about it, babe.  We’re doing this for us.  Have fun.  Go play with it.”

Something shifted on a dime.  The wall became a playground with the glaze and sponge simply toys.  I became an artist playing with color, moving along the wall with my sponge to the beat of the music playing.  I became an artiste’!

When in doubt, add glitter!

Our rooms are fairly small as we bought the place for the high-rise view of the ocean, not the size.  By choice, the colors on our walls are rather deep, which can close down a smaller room even more.

At some point in the middle of our project, a dear friend suggested that we add painter’s sparkle to the walls for added effect and to make the rooms feel lighter. IMG_5517.jpg

Sparkles!!!  I had never heard of painter’s sparkle, but you didn’t need to ask me twice.  A little research – again thanks to YouTube How Tos – and a trip to the hardware store resulted in Darrell with his roller adding a coat of sparkle on top of the paint in both rooms.

Sparkle on our walls was the best unexpected outcome of our Paint-cation…and I get a twinkle every time I see what our Thanksgiving Paint-cation taught me.

The point of it all: In our second half of life, it is so easy to not take risks, not play first, and stay in our easy, well-worn comfort zones of doubt, second-guessing and need to “look good.”  Yet, I find that I get the most juice in life when I DO step out, take risks, and play first ANYWAY.

That’s what makes my second half of life radical and passionate…and results in a radically, beautifully painted condo – with faux and sparkle to show!

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How to Perfectly Wrap Presents this Year

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It’s that time of year again, the time of year when you are buying gifts for your loved ones. But then, there’s the wrapping.

When I was a child, my mother instilled in me the importance of wrapping presents beautifully. She said that by wrapping something well, you were showing that you cared about the receiver of your gift.

For years I frustratedly learned the art of wrapping the perfect package, all the while wishing that I could just wrap the gifts quickly and throw on a pre-made bow or (gasp!) put a present in a gift bag like my father and brother often did. But now that I am grown I find myself appreciating the knowledge that my mother passed down to me. These days I feel that well-wrapped presents under the tree are accents that are just as important as all of the other decorations around my home.

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My home at Christmastime.

So today I will share my knowledge with you and teach you the art of wrapping the perfect present and, even more importantly, the elusive perfect bow!

Let’s start with wrapping the gift.20161214_093350

You will need your gift in a box, wrapping paper, a pair of scissors, tape and ribbon.

roll.jpgUnroll your wrapping paper and set your gift on top of the unrolled paper. There is a trick for cutting the perfect amount of paper. Roll your box across the paper 4 times (one time for each side of the box). This will give you the perfect amount of paper for the front and back side of your package. For the sides, make sure you have about 3/4 of the height of the package worth of paper on each side of the square.

Cut your paper to the correct size. Once you have your paper ready, turn your package upside down so the back of the package is facing up. 20161214_093803

Fold over the edge of your wrapping paper that will be on top when wrapping to make sure that you have a clean edge showing instead of your ragged cut edge. Fold the paper and hold together with a piece of tape.

20161214_093845Now for the sides. The trick is to crease all of your edges (I use the back of my fingernail against the ground and corners of the box). First, fold down the top and crease the sides. Then repeat the same on the sides and then the bottom. Fold the bottom up and secure with a piece of tape (or two).

Now you are ready for your bow!

The bow is a bit more complicated so I created the below infographic for your convenience. Grab your ribbon and let’s get started!

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present.pngAt this point, you should have a beautifully wrapped package to give to a loved one. It might have taken a few tries but it will all be worth it when your loved one says “Wow! Did you wrap this?”

Congratulations!

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The Best Gift Ideas for Everyone On Your List

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Do you find yourself still searching for the perfect holiday gifts? Are you realizing that Christmas is less than a week away and getting worried?

Don’t fear, I’ve taken the time to do a little research for you. I found something for everyone on your list. Look through the list below and find your perfect gift!

For the:

  • Fitness Enthusiast

    • Something Thoughtful: Sport Bottle Blender – This gift is a great idea for anyone on your list who is constantly blending up fitness shakes and smoothies. You just put the ingredients into your sport bottle, put your sport bottle on the blender base, and you’re done!3-bulu-box-animation
    • Something Unique: Monthly Health Product Subscription Box – The Bulu box brings new workout products to your present recipient’s door each month. This is perfect for someone who is always looking for the  next big thing!
    • Something Useful: HydraCoach Intelligent Water Bottle – This water bottle will put all other water bottles to shame! It will actually calculate your personal hydration needs, track your fluid consumption through the day, pace you to ensure hydration goals are met, motivate you to stay properly hydrated, and enhance your strength and endurance.
  • Globe Trotter

    • Something Thoughtful: Collapsible Water Bottle – Regardless of if they are roughing it or traveling in style, this is the perfect gift for any traveler you know. By making it collapsible, it takes up less space and is easy to take through airport security.map.JPG
    • Something Unique: Scratch Map – This map is a must for any true globe trotter. As they travel to new locations, they can scratch off that part of their map so they will always remember where their travels have taken them.
    • Something Useful: TSA Pre-Check Membership – For anyone who flys regularly, this is a godsent gift. Waiting in the security line is the worst, but for just $85 your traveler can skip the line for 5 whole years. They will thank you, I promise.
  • Perfect Host(ess) & Cook

    • Something Thoughtful: Wooden Cheese Picks – These picks are the perfect addition to any host’s collection. Place the picks in their corresponding cheeses to let guests know what is being offered.smoker
    • Something Unique: Handheld Food Smoker – Does your cook love the flavor of smoked meats, cheeses, and more? This handheld food smoker makes it possible to give anything you prepare a smokey taste without the long smoking process.
    • Something Useful: Oven-To-Table Entertaining Platter – This soapstone platter can be heated or chilled to keep your host’s dishes at the perfect temperature for serving.
  • Sports Fan

    • Something Thoughtful:  “Sportproof” Earbuds – These are perfect for sports fans who like to play as well as watch sports. These “sportproof” earbuds are sweatproof and bluetooth so that nothing will slow down your sports fan.sweaters
    • Something Unique: Try Uncommon Goods – I’m not going to try to pick a single item for this category. However, this page on uncommongoods.com is perfect for any sports fan. Regardless of if your fan is into football, hockey, baseball, or skiing, there is guaranteed to be something unique here!
    • Something Useful: Favorite NFL Team Ugly Christmas Sweater – If your sports fan is into football, this is a perfect gift. All you need to do is pick out their favorite team. This is especially useful for people who will be attending Ugly Christmas Sweater parties this season.
  • Businessman

    • Something Thoughtful: Rosewood Cufflinks – These handmade cufflinks can help your businessman stay in touch with nature while staying in the office, plus they are just plain stylish.smart-watch
    • Something Unique: Samsung Smartwatch – This watch is truly unique. Not only is it stylish, but you can also take phone calls, pay for items, track your fitness, find directions, and more with just this watch.
    • Something Useful: Handheld Luggage Scale – This is a perfect gift for anyone who has to travel regularly for work. It is the worst feeling to get to the airport and be told that you will need to pay an extra $50 because your luggage is 51 pounds instead of the maximum 50 pounds. This handheld luggage scale is easy to take with when traveling and will prevent your businessman from ever having to pay extra luggage fees again.
  • Artist

    • Something Thoughtful: Felt Succulent Kit – This is a fun (and beautiful) craft kit to spruce up anyone’s home. It includes everything your artist needs to make 18 felt succulent plants.3D Pen.JPG
    • Something Unique: 3D Printing Pen – This pen quite literally makes it possible for your artist to draw sculptures out of thin air. This is a wonderful gift that will be a guaranteed hit for anyone who loves art.
    • Something Useful: Heated Hand Massager – Anyone who spends a large amount of time creating art has hands that will get tired. This massager will help ease their pain after a long, hard day of work.
  • Spiritual Soul

    • Something Thoughtful: Merry Christmas Bonsai – This bonsai isn’t only spiritual, it is also festive! A mini strand of red (battery operated) Christmas lights are strung on this bonsai to give it a festive feel.choose-your-coach
    • Something Unique: Notes of The Buddha Post-Its – These post-its are shaped like Buddha himself, along with a pad that lets you choose if you are “out of mind”, “out of body”, or “just out”.
    • Something Useful: Midlife Coaching Session – Are you looking for a gift for a soul searcher? This session helps people in midlife create a playful, passionate, and purposeful second half of life for themselves. Plus, you can get a special $50 discount when you purchase the session with this code: NEWYEAR2017
  • Book Lover

    • Something Thoughtful: Personal Library Kit – Do you know someone who wishes they lived in a library? Or maybe they are always lending their friends and family books? With this gift, they can have their own library!book-perfume
    • Something Unique: Hermione Inspired “Books & Cleverness” Scented Perfume or (if they don’t actually want to smell like books) “Old Books” Scented Candle – These options are for the book lover who touts the smell of a good book above all else.
    • Something Useful: Clear Book Weight – This is perfect for someone who loves to read outside but doesn’t want to worry about book pages slipping away in the wind.
  • Gardener

    • Something Thoughtful: Personalized Family Member Signpost – This is the perfect gift for someone with family far away (or close)! You can choose between 3 and six personalized signs that include the names of your loved ones and how many miles away they are.grow
    • Something Unique: A Grow Kit – Choose from Grow Cocktails, Grow Salsa, or, Grow Pizza – These small grow kits are a unique way to grow all of the ingredients for your favorite drinks and snacks.
    • Something Useful: Gardner’s Tool Seat – This lightweight garden stool folds up into a tool bag for the gardener who spends hours in their garden.

Looking for a little something for yourself? Get your free gift from us below!

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The Real 12 Days of Christmas (Plus a Strange Family Tradition)

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My family has a rather strange Christmas tradition. Honestly, my parents can’t even agree on how it became a tradition in the first place.

My mother swears that her aunt gave her the idea for this while my father is adamant that they thought of this tradition on their own to prevent us children from being too greedy. However this tradition started, I still follow it today and hope to continue the tradition as long as I can, and maybe I can even convince some of you to take part in this tradition as well.

“So what is the tradition?!” You find yourselves asking, after all, you are more than two paragraphs into this post. Well, let me start at the beginning…

You’ve heard of the 12 Days of Christmas. After all, there is that song. Plus, the media has started picking up on it too. 12 Days of Sales, 12 Days of Christmas Movies, the list seems to grow and grow each year. But there is a GIANT piece of the puzzle that almost EVERYONE is missing!

The 12 Days of Christmas actually start on December 25th.

That’s right – those sales and promotions that all seem to start on December 14th are simply incorrect. But I understand why businesses do it, after all, how many people do you know that start taking down the tree on the 26th? Or at the very least, before the new year?

But I’m here to tell you that the 12 Days of Christmas START on the 25th, and that my family found a way to celebrate each and every day.

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“Why does it matter?” You may ask. Well, let me give you a mini history lesson. Christmas is actually a season. Yes, we have heard of the Christmas season, but historically the “season” consists of Christmas Day and the 11 Days after Christmas. Why? Because of the church. According to the Christian calendar, there are 12 days between when they celebrate Jesus’ birth (Christmas) and when they celebrate the 3 Wise Men arriving to give their gifts to the baby, which marks the beginning of the church season of Epiphany. Therefore, the 12 Days of Christmas are actually December 25th through January 5th, with Epiphany beginning on the 6th.

Now, regardless of if you find yourself very religious or not, this tradition is a great way to keep the original 12 Days of Christmas alive and to hold onto the Christmas spirit just a little bit longer.

“WHAT IS THE TRADITION?!?!” I hear you yelling to me through the screen. Okay, okay! I’ll finally get to it.

My family’s tradition is to give each other one gift every day for the entire 12 Days of Christmas.

Let me explain it a little more. When my brother and I were very young, my parents saw how all of the children around them were receiving tons of gifts on Christmas Day. Between the gifts from Santa, and their parents, and their extended family – many kids easily had 12 gifts, if not more. The kids were tearing through all of their gifts in about 30 minutes and then they were so overwhelmed by the number of presents they received, they would pick their favorite one to go play with and all the other gifts would be left at the base of the tree to be collected later.

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Me at the age of 12 on one of the 12 Days of Christmas.

My parents did not like this. They thought it made children appreciate each present less and it that it caused a big letdown after the gifts were all opened and suddenly – after a month building up to the day – Christmas was over.

So, however they thought of the idea, they decided to celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas. On the first day of Christmas, us children would receive one big gift from Santa and a smaller gift from our parents. Then, depending on how many gifts we received from our extended family, we would be able to open a few more until there were 11 gifts left under the tree for each of us. This way, we still had the excitement of Christmas Day above all else, but we weren’t opening so many gifts that we didn’t know how to appreciate them. Then, each day for the remaining 11 days of Christmas, we would open one more gift.

As much as I think this is a wonderful way for children to appreciate each of their gifts, enjoy the entire season, and learn about the history of the 12 Days of Christmas, I feel that this tradition can be just as gratifying as an adult.

As I grew older and got married, I carried this tradition into my new life. Each Christmas, my husband and I would buy each other 12 gifts. This worked out well because we always knew that we would have the same number of gifts under the tree. Now, many of you are probably thinking – 12 gifts is a lot! But, they don’t have to be big gifts. I still buy my husband one big “Santa” gift for the first day of Christmas and then smaller gifts for the following 11 days. Maybe one day he receives a few new shirts, another day a book he wanted. The thing I like about this tradition is that you can make it as grandiose or simple as you like.

So that’s it. That is my favorite Christmas tradition. I know it is unique – I am yet to meet a single person who also takes part in this tradition – but it is something that I truly love. I love being reminded to be grateful each and every day. I love being able to celebrate Christmas for the full season – and understanding why I am celebrating.

So maybe I’ve inspired you to try something new this year, or maybe not. But, either way, I hope that I’ve at least given you a new perspective for this holiday season.

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Starting Over: Back Forty Witness Protection

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“Witness protection just makes for exciting stories and it’s a really rich sort of place to grab stories from… people starting over completely, saying goodbye to their lives before… it never ends in terms of story opportunities.”

-Mary McCormack

When we look at our first half of life – what I call “the Front Forty” – there are certain ways of being and thinking we adopt as far as who we are, our “lot” in life, and what is or isn’t possible for us.

One considers themselves lucky if one can simply get a good education, get married for life, buy a home, raise happy healthy kids, keep a good job, save money, and then retire happily with some vacations, taking care of the grandkids, and maybe tooling around with a hobby or two.

Granted, that’s a good life, as we’re raised to believe.  And yet, as many have found while maturing in the world of today, the early “pictures” we had aren’t necessarily realistic.

The American Psychological Association states the divorce rate as between 40 to 50% and the rate for subsequent marriages even higher. Savings can’t survive certain economic impacts such as Great Recessions or crooked investments. The old-world ideal of keeping a job for life is not only totally unrealistic in a “freelance” economy but perhaps not even a good idea if one is looking to expand and move up. And we’ve all had the mythical, solid and steady “home” get shattered in one way or another.

My parents are a good example of that, when Ike hit the Texas Gulf Coast in 2008 and my entire hometown – including their home filled with years of memories – went under 8-10 feet of water. Or my aunt and cousin in Baton Rouge, recently having their own home of 50 years going under in a record flood.

So, what is one to do when the pictures of the way life was supposed to be turn out to be fraudulent? Perhaps enter into The Back Forty Witness Protection Program.the-back-forty-protection-program

Yes, bringing a little lightness to the whole end-of-the-world experience of divorce, financial or physical destruction, and all forms of devastation can help.

Witness Protection programs were created so that folks who would spill the beans on perpetrators of organized crime during trials could be protected with a new identity with which to live out their lives.

Just what if our “pictures” were part of an “organized crime” to keep us all safely inside of a smaller, limited view of ourselves and what’s possible for us?

Think about it:

  • Ever heard of people who shook off the perceived shackles of a bad marriage and found the more perfect fit for them?
  • Ever noticed how some folks respond to financial ruin with a new sense of Self that has them grow bigger than they ever were?
  • Ever watched as individuals move up and out of early, confined, career cubicles into roles of leadership, both within other organizations or their own business…often because they were fired?

The Back Forty philosophy, movement, and community is all about taking the supposed “worst things that could happen to us” and using them as opportunities for opening up to what’s bigger within us and what’s greater coming next.

If we can look back at our past – even these supposed serious and significant events – and analyze them from the point of view of “laboratory experiments” we ran to discover what we’re here to do and express, we get to then focus on inspiring and forward-moving directives rather than harping on our victim-based losses.

What’s the new identity that this supposed “bad thing happening to me” gives me the opportunity to assume?  What’s the greater and more expansive life that this event is opening the door into?

Those may seem like impossible questions to ask in the face of our personal stories of devastation…and yet we believe they are the questions we must build our muscles to ask, even when in the midst of horror.  In doing so, we begin to turn our small, pictures-based victim into a future-causing being. We thus rise toward becoming more and more of who we here came to be and what we came here to do.

The Back Forty Witness Protection Program: offering new identities after every trial.

“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.”

-Guy Finley

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The Choice We Make to Be Grateful

Melinda Walsh

A fun moment between friends (Melinda and Bert).

My friend Bert’s book was titled, “The Free Bird Flies: Choosing Life After Loss”, and it was a chronicle of how she regained her balance after the accidental death of her 21-year-old son, Philip. I held it in my hand, thinking of the journey that she and I had shared as close friends for the past several years. The many small moments of laughter over something her children had said; the sounding-board conversations we had over a shared interest in business; and the deeper conversations of spirituality and the concepts that give meaning to life. She filled such a comfortable and valued place in my life, in the way that only friends who love you just as you are can do. We vibed on a profund level and I always looked forward to our daily phone calls.

“The most helpful thing that someone said to me after Phil’s death”, she said, “was that you don’t ever ‘get over’ your grief. You just learn to manage it.” I had some managing to learn, as Bert had just been diagnosed with an incurable neurological disease that had already stolen much of her ability to speak, and was very soon going to accompany her out of this lifetime.

I felt numb, overloaded with sadness. Bert was well-known in our community, and I got multiple calls on a daily basis from people who were just hearing the news and needed to talk. I did my best to listen as they poured out their shock and grief. We all wanted to connect with someone else who loved her like we did. I found my sadness growing, as if in some way, if I could just get sad enough, then all would be restored and Bert would once again be her regular funny self.

If I’m not paying attention in the morning, I sometimes overpour my cup of tea. It tops the rim and runs down the side of the cup, puddling at the base. On this particular day after the third such phone call, I felt like that cup of tea, my grief at the impending loss of my friend overflowing my heart and puddling at my feet. I knew that I felt that way because losing my friend was all I had been focusing on. It was the topic that took up all my available mental bandwidth. Understandable, but puddling nonetheless. I needed to shift my story, but wasn’t sure what to do.

“How else can I look at this?”, I asked myself as I settled in for a meditation. As I relaxed, I thought of all the friends of mine who had gone out of their way to do small acts of caring for me. A sweet text here and there. Delivery of food so I wouldn’t have to cook. A listening ear so I could unload what I was feeling. Long, comforting hugs from my sweetheart.

My eyes shot open. “Love! I am surrounded by love!” My heart grew, and made room for gratitude as I sent a mental blessing to each person who formed my network of support. I could feel my mood lift a bit – there was now a different emotion alongside my grief.

I didn’t know it at the time, but choosing to look for love and gratitude in the time of sadness forever changed my stance toward loss. In the two years that followed Bert’s death (or “transition”, as she liked to call it), I also lost two other close friends as well as my dad. While my grief was certainly there at those times, it was also accompanied by its new friend, gratitude. Making the choice to be grateful for all of the treasured experiences I had with each of these people who were so special to me acted as a salve for my aching heart. It gave a dimension and a richness to the grieving process that surprised me, and I learned that difficult things also come packaged with wonderful things. It’s our choice to look for them.

As we get older, losses big and small become woven into the fabric of our life experience and it doesn’t take a big loss like a death to make gratitude our daily companion. We have opportunities to focus on what we love every day, to learn to manage our losses instead of allowing them to define us. Choosing gratitude is a choice worth making.

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